A little over three years ago, Clemson University shocked itself and the rest of the men’s college basketball world by defeating powerhouse Duke University. It was just the third time in the last 30 games that Clemson had scored a victory against Duke, and it came just after a humiliating loss to Florida State University. After the game, K.J. McDaniels, star forward for Clemson, told a reporter, “We were just hungry… We were just hungry, honestly.” Echoing McDaniels, teammate Landry Nnoko said, “We just had to eat” (Accessed January 10, 2014; http://www.postandcourier.com/sports/we-were-just-hungry/article_974aef66-1080-5d57-9262-fafe305443bd.html).
It’s a metaphor that, on its surface, makes no sense. There’s no food in basketball, nothing to fill you up, unless you’re in the stands snacking on French fries. If anything, players are physically hungrier after the game ends than they were before it started. But I think all of us know exactly what McDaniels and Nnoko were talking about. At some point probably every athlete, professional or amateur, has said something about being hungry for a win, playing hungrier than the other side, eating up every opportunity to score a point, whatever. Even if you hate sports, even if you’ve never played a game in your life, you know what a player means by being “hungry.”
Jesus tells his disciples, no one can serve two masters, for you will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. Why can’t we serve two masters? It doesn’t seem so hard; most of us do it most of the time. Monday-Friday you serve the master at work, the boss, the company, the bottom line. That doesn’t keep you from being the master of your own time in the evenings and on the weekends, does it? It doesn’t prevent you from working a second job, or a third job, where there are other bosses and masters and companies and bottom lines.
Even with discipleship that seems a bit harsh. You can read your Bible before you go to work, right? Take devotional breaks there, right? You can have deep religious sentiments, whether you make a lot of money or no money at all, right? You can have your “me” time and your God time, can’t you? Why should you be forced to choose? Why can’t you serve two masters?
Because you have to be hungry. To really serve something, you have to be hungry for it. And when you’re hungry for something, that’s what you’re going to serve, that’s what you are going to pour your whole life, your whole self, into, because you want it more than anything else. You’re hungry for it. You want that win on the court: you’ll do anything for it. You’re hungry. You want that promotion, you want that extra income, you want to learn a musical instrument, you will work harder, practice longer, spend more of yourself: you’re hungry for it. And you can’t be that hungry for two things at once. You just can’t. Those basketball players from Clemson, if they’d started getting hungry for something else outside the game, if they’d suddenly developed a strong hunger for giving great speeches or making historical dioramas, they would’ve lost to Duke. Or as Jesus says, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. And your hunger is going to lead your heart there.
All this talk about being hungry makes me wonder, though: what are you hungry for? What am I hungry for? Are we hungry at all? Or have we given up on being that passionate, that determined, that single-minded, not just for Jesus, but for anything? Is there any part in our lives where we give 110%, 100% of the time? Or any of the time? I think one of the great diseases of the modern church is that most of us just aren’t hungry, most of us have never been hungry for anything. We know what the Clemson teammates mean when they say they were hungry, but we don’t know if for ourselves. That’s why we’ve been able to get along so easily: church and wealth, work and amusement, Jesus and me. We’ve been told we don’t need to choose, which is the same thing as being told that we don’t ever need to get hungry for anything.
There’s an old saying that we’ve twisted around for our own self-justification: moderation in all things. But that doesn’t mean, “Do all things moderately!” There is no moderate amount of cocaine you can take, no moderate number of murders you can commit, no moderate degree of hatred you can allow to poison your life. The moderation of all those things, and many more like them, is zero. And in the same way, there are some things for which “moderation” means “giving everything you’ve got.” Moderation is not about mediocrity, though I’m afraid much of our lives and our discipleship is. Moderation is about using wisdom to discover the just proportion for all things.
In the wisdom of God, the Word of God spoke to his disciples and the crowd from the mountaintop: blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Where your hunger leads you, there your heart will be. You cannot hunger and thirst for righteousness, and also hunger for wealth. You cannot hunger and thirst for righteousness and your own comfort and security at the same time. You cannot hunger and thirst for righteousness and worry about the bottom line, or your vacation time, or anything else. That’s why Jesus tells us not to worry about the clothes we wear, or the food we will eat, or what will happen to us tomorrow. When you hunger and thirst for righteousness, when you seek first the kingdom of God, you will be filled. “Your heavenly Father knows you need all these things,” so don’t hunger for them. Don’t thirst after them. Spend your life seeking a better way.
Righteousness: ten dikaiosunen. It’s the same word for justice, for justification, for right judgment, and for righteousness. In the Bible, it is not an abstract concept. “Righteousness is what I long for,” we just sang. Righteous is who God is. God’s righteousness does not meet, or care about, human standards, not even the ones we’ve come up with in church. Righteousness seeks out and goes ahead of us to save, to redeem, to call back those whom the rest of us would rather leave behind. Righteousness is the teaching of Torah, the good Old Testament law given by God for the good of God’s people: love your neighbor, care for the stranger, the widow, the orphan, give from what you have received for the glory of God and the welfare of your neighbor. Righteousness is Jesus Christ, not a message but a person, a person who welcomes all, transforms all, challenges all, seeks all, loves all.
Hungering and thirsting for righteousness means having a hunger for the righteousness of God, for the way of Jesus Christ, for Christ himself. No one can serve two masters: you hunger for one thing, or you hunger for nothing. Now, as with all the beatitudes, this hunger develops in two different ways. One is by circumstances: those who suffer from the unrighteousness, the injustice, of this world simply are blessed by Jesus, and their promise is that they will be filled. Anyone who suffers from injustice and hungers to be free has a hunger for the righteousness of God. That’s one way to develop this hunger. The other is for the rest of us, those of us who never face a greater injustice than a slight in our jobs, or a passing insult at the store or on the television. And for the rest of us, the other way to this beatitude is to train our hunger on Jesus, to yearn for his ways, to dwell with those who suffer injustice and walk with them to fulfillment, to seek first the kingdom of God, and abandon all other masters.
Happiness, blessing, beatitude, is found in companionship with the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ. There will be others who offer to satisfy your longings, your hungers. There will be many who say you should hunger after them, or after what they’re offering or selling. But only God, in his righteousness, can satisfy this deep and arduous desire. The foretaste, the appetizer, of this is what we receive in Holy Communion, and if we are alert to how Christ is moving in our world, this Communion and this righteousness is what we can offer and receive as we walk along those whose hunger and thirst have been awakened, stirred, for righteousness.
What are you hungry for? Are you hungry at all? Will you seek with reckless abandon the kingdom of God and its righteousness? Will you store up treasure in heaven by investing yourself in Jesus Christ and his most excellent way? You have heard: blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. What are you hungry for?